Art Classes… Rembrandt

This is the first piece of work by Rembrandt that we looked at on the art course run by Fiona Lucraft.

This small work may be Rembrandt’s earliest self-portrait, made about 1628 when he was still living in his hometown of Leiden. He was just 22, but had been studying and practicing art since he was 14 years of age.

It could be the portrait of any artist and has a timeless quality. Notice the stance of the artist, brush poised in his hand, a length of cloth wrapped round his waist for wiping his brushes, a palette and more brushes held close as he takes stock of his work.

The panel dwarfs the artist, which can be a common feeling for artists of all kinds as they face the creation of a work. The currant-like eyes convey this contemplation, as well as the experience of being daunted.

Notice the almost golden line of the edge of the panel on the easel and the odd phenomenon that the panel is giving off light, when in fact the light must be coming from above and behind the artist. The effect is to make the work on the easel seem special, even monumental.

Interestingly the panel appears to be made of wood, rather than canvas and as the painting we are looking at is also made of panel it reinforces the idea that we are looking at the work of art in the process of being made.

The initial subject of this work may be the relationship between the artist and his work, but there is more to see and enjoy. One reason it may be a delight for the eyes is the warm yet sombre palette which Rembrandt used consistently throughout his career. Then there is the careful geometric composition. The wooden doorpost divides the panel into a square shape and multiple rectangles. Another slight oddity is the small dilapidated detail where the wall meets the floor by the doorpost. Rembrandt has paid such close attention to creating the reality of an old building, he even includes the realistic cracks above the door.

There is something honest about this – while the young Rembrandt is striving to make something new he is surrounded by things that age and fall apart.

What else do you notice about this picture and how does it make you feel?

Alice C

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